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A Passion for Food: For a warming bowl of soup, give split peas a chance

Sherrel Jones: Rinsing and soaking the dried split peas — if there's time — reserving half of the soaked peas for texture, including extra flavoring agents, and an enticing finish with a spot of cream sherry.
BY SHERREL JONES Modified: March 19, 2013 at 4:41 pm •  Published: March 20, 2013

For a brief time in the early spring, there will be chilly days when lunch still calls for a warming bowl of split pea soup. The satisfying nature of my homemade version has to do largely with a few simple steps in the process: Rinsing and soaking the dried split peas — if there's time — reserving half of the soaked peas for texture, including extra flavoring agents, and an enticing finish with a spot of cream sherry.

If all of this has tempted you, then pick up some dried split peas. Start with a one-pound package. These little light-green half spheres are nutrient-dense morsels that cook into a delicious brew with the addition of a few ingredients. The price of split peas is a real bargain in terms of nutrients and fiber for the money.

The first step in cooking any dried peas or beans is the rinsing and soaking. Planning ahead is great, but sometimes it doesn't work out. Most of the time my husband says, “I sure wish you would make some split pea soup today,” adding that he would love it for lunch. By the time he makes the request, I have a short time to prepare it. It still can be done because split peas cook quickly compared with larger dried beans.

Once the peas are rinsed, I separate out about half of them to add a little later in the cooking process. The peas will lose their shape and become a thickened mushy pea liquid of almost milkshake consistency. I like to have some texture of the peas themselves incorporated into the soup, so keeping half of them in reserve assures these remain tender but intact for the texture we enjoy.

I include a clove of garlic, onions and carrots for their flavor boost in the soup, and they, too, bring additional texture. The other flavor source comes from the chicken broth I use to cook the peas in. Water can be added to thin the soup, but the broth adds a wonderful layer of flavor even if you have used chunks of ham or thick lean bacon in the beginning.

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Split Pea and Ham Soup

Makes 4 to 6 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil or butter

1 medium onion, chopped and divided in half

2 medium carrots, sliced

1 clove garlic, crushed, peeled and minced

1 cup cubed (½-inch) ham, trimmed of fat

2 cups dried split peas

6 cups chicken stock (additional stock if needed)

1/3 cup cream sherry

Sour cream or plain Greek yogurt for garnish

Rinse split peas and soak in warm water while preparing onions, garlic, carrots and ham. Prepare carrots, onions and garlic. Place butter or oil in large soup pot over medium heat. Saute carrots, garlic, onions and chopped ham until onions become translucent and carrots just begin to caramelize. Cover for about 5 minutes over low heat to cook carrots through.

Using a slotted spoon or spider, remove the carrots and about half of the ham and onion. Drain split peas and place half of them in the pot with onions and ham. Add enough of the chicken stock to generously cover the ingredients.

Bring to a boil then reduce heat. Cook over low heat for about 25 minutes until peas are softened and most of liquid is absorbed. Add remaining broth and peas, simmering until peas are softened but whole. Return remaining cooked carrots and ham to the pot and simmer until heated through. Add additional broth if a thinner consistency is desired. Stir in sherry or reserve to stir into soup at the table.

Serve steaming hot. Garnish with sour cream or yogurt and a sprig of thyme if desired.

Note: If you have an immersion blender, all ingredients can be cooked at once, including the peas. Insert the immersion blender, only blending partially to leave some of the peas intact. Carrots, onions and ham removed from original saute can be returned to the cooked peas after blending so they remain intact or left in the soup. The peas cooking in the broth will benefit from the residue from the saute in the same pan.

SOURCE: Sherrel Jones


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